Why Christian Pulisic Has Made A Low-Key Start At Chelsea
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The best birthday present Christian Pulisic could receive would be a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up against Liverpool on Sunday.
It seems, however, that patience may be the name of the game as the young forward who turned 21 on Wednesday seeks to become the Premier League’s first truly major American star.
There is a critical difference between Pulisic and the group of youngsters who have been claiming headlines at Stamford Bridge this season under the command of new manager Frank Lampard.
Unlike Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, Pulisic has a £58 million price tag and the title of most expensive US signing in history attached to his name.
Unlike those three home-grown players, Pulisic hasn’t developed in English soccer or spent time on loan at other English clubs – having joined from Borussia Dortmund in January and then been loaned back.
Unlike that trio, the winger is also the only big signing made this year by a club used to splashing the cash on the grand scale but now operating under a transfer ban.
He also has the illustrious figure of Eden Hazard to follow in his role in the team, too, no matter that the club would be desperate to avoid any comparisons.
That alone could have prompted some intense scrutiny of a player who has to make bigger adjustments to life in the spotlight at one of England’s elite clubs than his youthful team-mates.
But all of those factors add up to a reasonable explanation for why Pulisic has made a low-key start to life in London – with boss Lampard insistent that he is a big part of his thinking even though he has been left out of the last two games against Wolves and Valencia.
It seems a sensible, new-found approach at a club which for so long has been renowned for turbulence and instant gratification.
To date, Pulisic's best performance in Blue actually came against Liverpool in the European Super Cup, so Lampard may be tempted to recall him for the visit of the Reds on Sunday, with Jurgen Klopp's league leaders +100 favourites (888Sport) to win at Stamford Bridge.
|Pulisic vs Liverpool Betting||Odds (888)|
|First Goal||10/1 (+1000)|
|Last Goal||10/1 (+1000)|
|Anytime Scorer||4/1 (+400)|
|Score/Win Double||15/2 (+750)|
|Two Or More Goals||35/1 (+3500)|
|To Be Carded||8/1 (+800)|
In the case of Pulisic, the long game may be the smarter one to play. What Chelsea actually bought was potential, not a ready-made match-winner. And the exploits of Abraham, Mount and Tomori have given plenty else to be excited about to a set of fans who for years cried out to see more home-produced talent in the side.
After waiting so long for this, they can surely wait a little longer to see the flourishing of another young talent like Pulisic – admittedly an expensively imported one.
The Story So Far
After coming on as a substitute in the opening day’s 4-0 defeat by Manchester United, Pulisic started the next four games – including that Super Cup defeat to Liverpool in Istanbul.
But he was an un-used substitute in the 5-2 win at Wolves and again in the 1-0 home defeat by Valencia in the Champions League’s opening group game.
That settling-in period produced no goals and only two assists. It suggested that for all his experience with Dortmund, where he played 81 times in three years after his debut as a precocious 17-year-old, there is a transition to be made to England’s more physical and rapid-fire game.
It is also a transitional time for the whole team with a new coach still experimenting and seeking his best combinations.
After the setback against the Spaniards – when Ross Barkley missed a penalty – Lampard was asked about Pulisic’s standing in the squad.
The question was prompted by the fact that Pedro was sent on instead of Pulisic when Mount was injured.
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“Christian is in the plans,” Lampard replied. “We have got the squad and the wingers to choose from. But with Pedro’s experience in the Champions League it was a decision to make. But Christian is well in the plans.”
Pulisic, in fact, already has a decent amount of Champions League experience and featured against Real Madrid and Tottenham as a teenager.
He also has 32 caps for the US national team after making his debut in 2016.
It had been a tough night for Chelsea against Valencia, however, long before Rodrigo scored the winner for the visitors.
The absence of Hazard – who has departed to become a Galactico at Real Madrid – was plain to see.
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Chelsea are keen not to load expectation on Pulisic and do not want him seen as a replacement for the little Belgian wizard who is, after all, irreplaceable.
Fans and the media will naturally enough seek comparisons, though. Once Pulisic’s creative abilities find their range in England, it can at least be acknowledged that he has provided an alternative option, if not a like-for-like copy.
Ironically, the injury suffered by Mount on Tuesday may now hand Pulisic another opening in the biggest home game of the season so far against Jurgen Klopp’s reigning Champions League holders this weekend.
Yet the player himself – apparently a quiet character – is in no hurry, anyway.
On duty with the US team last week he explained why the appointment of Lampard as replacement for the much older Maurizo Sarri has helped him.
Pulisic said: “It worked out really well for sure. Frank’s a great guy and he’s helped me so much. He understands where I’m coming from and he’s done a really good job teaching us, especially a lot of the younger guys on the team.”
Patience has never been a virtue at Stamford Bridge during the Roman Abarmovich era.
Perhaps the fact that it will be shown to Pulisic – and that he seems to possess it in return – is a sign of just how much things have changed in the DNA of the club under its new, bright young manager.